Nobody writes travelogues about Germany. The country spurs many anxious volumes of investigative reporting--books that worry away at the "German problem," World War II, the legacy of the Holocaust, the Wall, reunification, and the connections between them. But not travel books, not the free-ranging and impressionistic works of literary nonfiction we associate with V. S. Naipaul and Bruce Chatwin. What is it about Germany and the travel book that puts them seemingly at odds? With one foot in the library and one on the street, Michael Gorra offers both an answer to this question and his own traveler's tale of Germany.
Gorra uses Goethe's account of his Italian journey as a model for testing the traveler's response to Germany today, and he subjects the shopping arcades of contemporary German cities to the terms of Benjamin's Arcades project. He reads post-Wende Berlin through the novels of Theodor Fontane, examines the role of figurative language, and enlists W. G. Sebald as a guide to the place of fragments and digressions in travel writing.
Replete with the flaneur's chance discoveries--and rich in the delights of the enduring and the ephemeral, of architecture and flood--The Bells in Their Silence offers that rare traveler's tale of Germany while testing the very limits of the travel narrative as a literary form.
"Gorra has made a notable effort to write a truthful book that, while colorful and impressionistic, also draws thoughtful conclusions about what he encounters. . . . His accounts of his wandering are peppered with literary and historical reflections as well as musings on the nature of travel literature. . . . [T]he results can be stunning."--Brooke Allen, New York Times Book Review
"Gorra's narrative is rich in texts he knows or has heuristically sought out: Goethe, Stendhal, Heine, Fontane, Thomas Mann, Patrick Leigh Fermore, Bruce Chatwin and Walter Benjamin. . . . But the big names who establish Gorra's credentials as an intelligent traveler cannot really enlighten him on his quest. . . . On the other hand his beloved texts frame the possibility of a true friendship with Germany, which is his subtle story."--Lesley Chamberlain, Times Literary Supplement
"Gorra's introspective, impressionistic account of his travels through Germany is shaped--perhaps even haunted--by figures from the past: historical, literary, personal . . . Yet for all his erudition, Gorra enters the deep waters of German cultural memory a humble, inquisitive novice, weaving personal and literary experiences. . . . A captivating, unique work of synthesis."--Booklist (starred review)
"Gorra interprets modern Germany with intellectual verve and sometimes even a little humor."--Georgia Jones Davis, Washington Post Book World
"Entertainingly vivid. . . . [B]ecause Gorra travels in Germany with such animated interest and pleasure, there arises a moral tension that drives his narrative. The pleasure of travel collides with the knowledge that one is in a place where so much misery has been inflicted and suffered."--Steve Dowden, The Boston Globe
Table of Contents:
Preface The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog xi
CHAPTER ONE: Cultural Capital 1
CHAPTER TWO: The Peculiarities of German Travel 25
CHAPTER THREE: Visible Cities 52
CHAPTER FOUR: The Dentist's House 79
CHAPTER FIVE: Fragments and Digressions 107
CHAPTER SIX: Hauptstadt 132
CHAPTER SEVEN: Family Chronicles 160
Sources and Suggestions for Further Reading 191